Confessions & Creeds The Development Of The Traditional Form Of The Westminster Standards

First published, “Antiquary: The Development of the “Traditional Form of The Westminster Standards, The Confessional Presbyterian 1 (2005): 168–177. Appendix C omitted (but see the old PBTJ here).

The Westminster Confession of Faith was approved and adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on August 27, 1647. Subsequently, the Confession was published for the first time with both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms in 1648, which catechisms had been approved respectively on July 2nd and July 28th of that year.1 Other items began to be published along with the three doctrinal standards beginning in 1649, though these did not always appear in later editions. After nearly eighty years, the traditional complement of documents making up “The Westminster Standards” was set and fixed by the Lumisden and Robertson edition of 1728 (Warfield, 627).

While the form of the Standards was firmly established in 1728, its general layout and structure actually originated much earlier. The Edinburgh printing firm of Thomas Lumisden and John Robertson had published the 1725 rival to Dunlop’s Collection of Confessions (1719-21), the editing of which the Carruthers assigned to the Reformed Presbyterians.2

{Several 18th and 19th century editions including the 2 volume edition edited by Dunlop.*}

These were the Covenanters who had suffered through the persecution known as the “Killing Times” (1660-1688), and had remained outside the Church of Scotland after the 1690 Revolution Settlement. During the period of persecution, ministers such as Robert MacWard and John Brown of Wamphray were banished to Holland,3 and from there were published many works both directly and indirectly supportive of the Covenanter cause. It was presumably from somewhere in Holland in 1679, that the primogenitor of the traditional form of the Standards was issued, which set the preferred content and appearance later copied by Lumisden and Robertson, albeit with some minor variations.

This 1679 edition is probably the one referred to in the Advertisement in the second volume of William Dunlop’s “Collections,” which, as noted by B. B. Warfield, is described by David Hay Fleming in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review for April, 1899 (x. 320-321): “The edition thus referred to as having been printed in Holland was probably that of 1679, which has neither printer’s name nor place of issue, but bears an unmistakable resemblance to those covenanting books which were printed in Holland during the persecution” (Warfield, 633). S. W. Carruthers confirmed this from an inscription in a copy of this edition, which he examined at Cambridge. He noted that this “is the first edition where the supplementary documents are given in the order ultimately followed by all modern editions” (Three Centuries, 56).

This raises the possibility that the Reformed Presbyterians may also have been responsible for the preparation of the 1728 Lumisden & Robertson edition, or at least had some influence on its final form. They understandably would have been partial to the form of the 1679 edition. Also, while the text of the 1728 is generally dependent upon Dunlop’s ‘critical text,’ it is clear that variants traceable to the Reformed Presbyterian text of 1725 were incorporated, which points at least to the influence of that edition, if not to any direct involvement by the Reformed Presbyterians themselves.4

What led to this rather large collection of documents, which became the traditional form of the Westminster Standards? B. B. Warfield in his article on the “Printing of the Westminster Confession,” rested the explanation for the progressive expansion of content over the later half of the seventeenth century, in the effort of printers to “supply as comprehensive a collection as possible” fueled by the dual desires for a volume that would function as an ecclesiastical manual, as well as a “richly furnished popular book of religion.”5 This impulse to expand the Standards produced two general forms: one Scottish and the other English.

The Rothwell editions of 1658 set the English form, which included such things as the two epistles by Manton and forty-four Puritan divines, the ordinance calling the Westminster Assembly and the vow taken by its members, as well as a piece entitled A Grave And Serious Advice Of The Ministers Of Scotland, which is simply the Directory for Family Worship with a different title. Rothwell also introduced the emphasis in italic type of portions of the Scripture proof texts, which was dropped by Dunlop and Lumisden & Robinson, and not restored until 1855 by Johnstone and Hunter.6 These English editions did not include the Scottish Sum of Saving Knowledge by David Dickson and James Durham,7 or the Directory for Public Worship, but often included the Form of Church-Government. Meantime, the Scottish editions early included the Sum of Saving Knowledge and the Directory for Family Worship, as well as the Form of Church-Government.

{The Johnstone & Hunter editions, form A, B & C (see Appendix B)*}

The apex of the drive to include all the documents that had appeared in previous editions was reached when the English and Scottish forms were combined. This was apparently first done by James Watson with his edition of 1707/1708.8 The same mix of contents was included ten years later in the 1717 edition by Cruttenden & Cox.
2017-02-13 18.19.05.jpg

{The title page of the 1708 Watson edition.*}
These editions differ from the 1728 Lumisden & Robertson: they lack some of the Acts approving various documents, and the material is ordered differently than that set by the 1679 edition. Some material is also included in duplicate! As already noted, the Directions for Secret and Family Worship had appeared in some English editions as A Grave and Serious Advice of the Ministers of the Kirk of Scotland. Both appear in these editions, the Directions toward the end following the Directory for Public Worship and the Serious Advice appearing in front sandwiched between the two customary epistles to the reader. Also, a Postscript, affixed to some editions in the Scottish tradition, concludes the volumes prior to the index.9 But the text is simply an extract from Manton’s epistle, which also appears at the front.

{1728, 1736, 1744 Lumisden & Robertson editions; E. Robertson, 1756 with Watson's 1708 "Fourth" holding things up ; not published in the original article.*
*Picture of the author's copies, February 13, 2017}

This combination of features in both the Watson and Cox editions did not include numbering the questions in the two catechisms. The chapters and paragraphs of the Confession of Faith were numbered from the first editions, but the catechisms are not even numbered in the surviving manuscripts. The benefit of having the questions numbered is obvious, and one can find examples of early editions where they have been numbered by hand. Yet despite this, the only seventeenth century editions found that numbered the questions were the two printings by George Swintoun and Thomas Brown of 1671 (Wing C5769) and 1683 (Wing C5770B). Carruthers notes that the Robert Sanders edition of 1703 does not number the questions (Three Centuries, 58), and it is likely the earlier Sanders editions are unnumbered. The catechisms in the 1710 Watson edition are also unnumbered.

The rules for rightly understanding the Ten Commandments in Larger Catechism 99 were numbered as early as the 1659 Latin edition by John Field, and presumably earlier in his 1656, of which the 1659 is a careful line for line setting (Three Centuries, 75). Rothwell ‘B’ of 1658 also numbers the rules (but ‘A’ does not), as does the Third of 1688 (Wing C5798), Glasgow Fourth (Sanders, 1675), and the two by Swintoun & Brown. The Covenanter 1679 edition was the earliest edition found that also numbers the aggravations of sin in Larger Catechism 151. Other editions that number the subdivisions of both questions are the anonymously published editions of 1688, 1694, and 1700.

Happily, with the awareness of the need for a more critical approach having been raised by both the Dunlop and the Reformed Presbyterian Collections, the Lumisden & Robertson edition refined and brought to a more thoughtful completion, the merging of the English and Scottish forms, including the numbering of the catechisms, a feature found in both Collections. Thus while the traditional form of the Standards owes its general selection and order of documents to the Covenanter edition of 1679, it owes much as well to the subsequent merging of these two edition types, as well as to the critical work of the Collections of Dunlop, and of the Reformed Presbyterians in particular. This form of the Westminster Standards set by Lumisden and Robertson in 1728 is still kept in print by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
About author
Since 1987 through his imprint Naphtali Press, Chris Coldwell has edited and published new and critical text editions of classic Presbyterian & Reformed books. He is general editor and publisher of The Confessional Presbyterian journal.


A fascinating and excellently researched article. If you could own but one of these ancient works, which one would you choose?
A fascinating and excellently researched article. If you could own but one of these ancient works, which one would you choose?
If you are asking the author, for use I'd want a fine edition of the large format 1855; otherwise be nice to have the Lumisden and Robertson editions in much better shape than the research copies shown above.

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